As most of you know who follow my blog, I exercised all the way through my cancer treatment, likening it to a triathlon of chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy. All this from the girl at school who hated sport and did anything she could to get out of it. I blame my husband - it's all it his fault. He introduced me to cycling. I was hooked, and then I discovered triathlons.
I had entered a large Olympic distance event in September 2015 but had to pull out because it fell in the middle of chemo. I was really sad that I wouldn't be able to do it. I did my local pool sprint triathlon halfway through chemo instead, very very slowly, which was a huge challenge for me at the time. However, once my radiotherapy had finished, I started to wonder - what could my body do now?
If people don't laugh at your goals, they're not big enough
My aspirations started when I went on a women's cycling camp one month after radiotherapy, and met the awesome Tanja Slater who ran the camp, as well as an inspiring group of women of all ages, some of them were grandmothers, who were either training to cycle the Haute Route, their 10th Ironman, or the Marathon de Sables.
I started thinking - could I do a long-distance triathlon? I'd read stories of people who trained for an Ironman from scratch in a year (2.4mile swim, 112 mile cycle, 26.2mile run) and ended up broken, needing a year to recover. My body had already been broken by cancer treatment, and I wanted to be sensible.
I got talking to Tanja, and she told me how she had helped her Dad train to cycle and race triathlons after his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer (who has now sadly passed away). I knew that she would understand the damage that treatment had done to my body, and how to get the best out of me. So, with her backing, I signed up to do Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire (1.2mile swim, 56mile bike ride, 13.1mile run). Its just 3 days away!!! Having a coach felt a bit self-indulgent, especially as I don't class myself as a proper athlete - I mean, I'm never going to win any medals, but Tanja gave me the belief that I could do anything I wanted, as long as I trained properly.
Back to the beginning
And that's where it got hard for me. I had to throw away all my ideas about training, and ignore all the programs I had read that tell you what to do and when. I had to listen to my body, and most importantly my coach, and accept that there would be a lot of very, very slow waddling, cycling and swimming. My heart rate would sky-rocket with the gentlest exercise and I had no real aerobic fitness to speak of. It was so frustrating seeing how slow I was on Strava, and in the end I stopped looking at the data. I had to stop comparing post-cancer me with pre-cancer me, and learned to just enjoy being outside on my bike instead of staring at my computer chasing a heart rate zone. Gradually, my fitness started to improve. I knocked 3 minutes off my park run time, my bike speed picked up a wee bit, I learned to stand up on the bike (this is HUGE for me), and I could now swim more than 10 lengths without stopping. I even ran a half-marathon.
I also took this as a chance to reset my body, and started doing strength and conditioning work with a trainer in the gym to help get some strength back after nine months of mainly lying on the sofa. I soon realised I needed a lot more sleep that I thought I did if I was going to be able to train the next day.
There were a few set-backs along the way. I got a nasty bout of bronchitis around Easter that meant no training for 5 weeks - cue lots of panicked e-mails to Tanja that I was losing my fitness. She told me to stop worrying and rest. She was right. I also went back to work two months ago, so have had to cope with the physical exhaustion of working again, as well as a two hour commute on top of training.
The mental edge
I never had the racing spirit, which is odd as I'm competitive in almost every other aspect of my life. I've always put myself down when it comes to sport (assuming I'll be at the back of any event) and in the past when I got to the final 1km of the run in a triathlon, instead of speeding up and giving it everything I have, I tend to slow down to make sure I have enough left in the tank to do a VERY small sprint finish at the end. I've been scared of crossing the pain barrier that people talk about at the end of races. It will hurt! I don't want to hurt!
Things are different now. I've been through chemo. I had to go through the pain barrier. I had no choice. The drugs were in control, not me. And it did get better, and I coped. I need to channel that mental strength that got me through my darkest days and remind myself how awesome I am when I'm out there struggling in the heat on Sunday.
I've also decided to have a bit of fun. It's probably going to take me the full 8.5 hours allowed, and I'm guaranteed a PB as it's my first. I've had a cycling jersey designed for me, and because I HATE the colour pink, I'm going to do the run wearing a neon pink tutu and wig. I met regret that in the predicted blazing sunshine, but it's all for charity. If you wanted to sponsor me, the link is here, and any money I raise is being split between Macmillan and Breast Cancer Care.